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From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research

From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research

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From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research

5/5 (1 évaluation)
169 pages
1 heure
Jan 28, 2016


While courses in Bible and theology typically require research papers, particularly at the graduate level, very few include training in research. Professors have two options: use valuable class time to teach students as much as they can, or lower their standards with the understanding that students cannot be expected to complete tasks for which they have never been prepared.
From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research offers a third option. This affordable and accessible tool walks students through the process, focusing on five steps: finding direction, gathering sources, understanding issues, entering discussion and establishing a position. Its goal is to take students directly from a research assignment to a research argument—in other words, from topic to thesis.
Jan 28, 2016

À propos de l'auteur

Michael Kibbe (PhD, Wheaton College) is associate professor of biblical studies and dean of communication and theology at Great Northern University in Spokane, Washington. He is the author of Godly Fear or Ungodly Failure? Hebrews 12 and the Sinai Theophanies and has written for journals such as Biblica, Theology Today, and the Journal of Theological Studies.

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Aperçu du livre

From Topic to Thesis - Michael Kibbe










To Sue Park-Hur,

for giving me the chance to try out my ideas

about theological research on unsuspecting

students at the Fuller Theological

Seminary Writing Center.




1 Finding Direction

2 Gathering Sources

3 Understanding Issues

4 Entering Discussion

5 Establishing Position


Appendix A: Ten Things You Should Never Do in a Theological Research Paper

Appendix B: Theological Research and Writing Tools

Appendix C: Scholarly Resources for Theological Research

Appendix D: Navigating the ATLA Religion Database

Appendix E: Zotero Bibliography Software

Appendix F: A Suggested Timeline for Theological Research Papers


About the Author

Subject Index

Praise for From Topic to Thesis

More Titles from InterVarsity Press



This book began as a two-hour workshop for the Writing Center at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2009, and thanks are due to Sue Park-Hur, then director of the Writing Center, for allowing me to hone my ideas in that context. Courtney Bacon, a PhD student at Fuller, used the earliest written drafts of the material as required reading in her Orientation to Theological Studies courses, and her feedback alongside that of David Downs and Rich Erickson of Fuller Seminary brought the manuscript to adolescence. Credit for later revisions and additions is due especially to two Wheaton College mentor-colleagues: Michael Graves (for his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient texts and modern editions) and Daniel Treier (for his insights into how a book like this one might actually be used in undergraduate and graduate contexts). And thanks are due, finally, to David Congdon and the IVP editorial staff for bringing the project to completion.


Home Depot recently ran a commercial depicting a man standing in his living room staring admiringly at the ceiling fan he had just installed, wondering why he held in his hand one last bolt that seemed like it should have played some part in the assembly. In the next scene, the ceiling fan comes crashing down onto the glass coffee table placed inexplicably beneath it, followed by another crash as the man throws the fan through his living room window in frustration. The point of the commercial is that you can save yourself a lot of trouble if you just pay a little bit extra and have the experts at Home Depot do the work for you. Of course, the point might also have been that if the man had read the instructions a little more carefully, none of this would have happened.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? You bring home a new piece of furniture—let’s say a new desk (less intimidating than a ceiling fan, perhaps)—and those two terrifying words appear: Assembly required. You have three options: (A) Call the experts and stave off any chance of disaster. Under certain circumstances—you can wait a week for them to come out, you can afford to pay the extra fees, you aren’t motivated to learn how to do it yourself—this can work. (B) Wing it. Dump all the pieces on the floor and start putting things together that look like they go together. This too can work under certain circumstances—you assemble furniture for a living, the desk has only three pieces, or you have a surplus of time in which to conduct trial-and-error. (C) Read the instructions and follow them. You already know I prefer this one!

This book is designed to be an instruction manual for assembling your theological research paper. Option A doesn’t work. You can’t just call in the experts—you have to write the paper. Why do you have to write the paper and do so in such a way that the thoughts and arguments in the paper are yours and not a regurgitation of someone else’s? Because if you are taking a course that requires a theological research paper, part of the purpose of that course is skill development. Doing research develops several skills: the skill of finding information, the skill of processing (reading, understanding, correlating, evaluating) information and the skill of communicating information. Calling in the experts is antithetical to skill development, so that just won’t do.

Option B also doesn’t work, at least not within the parameters you have for your research project. You could spend countless hours perusing the library stacks, hoping to stumble across the right books for your paper. But I’d be willing to bet that you don’t have countless hours! More than likely, you’ve got a couple of weeks to write three large papers and four small papers, give two presentations, and prepare for a comprehensive exam in at least one ancient language—and all this while working part-time, volunteering at your church part-time, and spending time with your family somewhere in there. So sure, if you walk the library aisles long enough, you might find something. Or if you simply google your research topic, you might turn up something useful. But where do you find the criteria by which you judge something to be useful, and how much time are you willing to spend scrolling through page after page of useless hits until you find something that meets those criteria? Time is a valuable commodity, and this option is guaranteed to waste a lot of it.

And so we are left with Option C: read the instructions—this book! Like an instruction manual, this book is designed to be as short as possible—complete step one, step two, etc., then stand back and admire your finished product. Theological research isn’t quite as simple as assembling a piece of furniture, but the basic idea is the same: take certain steps involving these pieces and not those pieces, in this order and not that order, and when you’re done you’ll have a product you can be proud of. And hopefully, your story won’t end with you throwing a pile of books through your window!

The Process: From Topic to Thesis

Like an instruction manual, this book will be most profitable if you begin by skimming through the whole thing to get your bearings and see the broad strokes of where it will be leading you. Once you have done that, return to the first chapter and, following the instructions, begin your research. This book is not a reference book that you should pull off the shelf to address a variety of topics at a variety of isolated points within the research process, with the exception of some of the appendixes. ¹ Rather, it is a simple book designed to take you step by step from a research topic to a research thesis .

Every research paper begins with a topic, usually one specified in your course syllabus. The amount of direction you receive on your initial topic will vary from class to class. One professor will require you to write on a topic that falls broadly within the scope of the course: Write an 8–10 page research paper on some aspect of Christology. Christology, then, is your initial topic. Another professor will give you a more specific topic as a starting point: Write a 2,500-word research paper on the kingdom of God in Mark’s Gospel. This initial topic is narrower than Christology, for instance, but is still fairly broad. Usually, a text of Scripture will be the most specific topic you will be assigned: Write a 10–12 page exegetical paper on Isaiah 6:1-9, or Write a 2,000-word research paper on one of the prophetic call narratives.

Do not make the mistake of moving immediately from topic to paper. A research paper is not built around a topic, but a thesis. A topic is a set of information that concerns a specific thing, such as Christology, the kingdom of God in Mark’s Gospel or prophetic call narratives. A thesis is a specific claim you make about that particular set of information. The research process is the movement you make from identifying that set of information (your topic), to making an argument about that set of information (your thesis). Your paper will not merely be about Christology but will make a specific claim about a particular issue within Christology.

Think of it this way: in speech class in high school or college, you probably gave both informative speeches and persuasive speeches. In informative speeches, you were taught to say In this speech I will inform you about . . . or My topic for this speech is . . . But in persuasive speeches you said "In this speech I will attempt to argue that . .

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